The complete guide to effective customer service training
Instructional Design

The complete guide to effective customer service training

All companies are different, but all companies that survive have one thing in common: they’re customer-driven. After all, what’s a company without its customers?

The tricky part is that making customers happy isn’t as easy as it used to be. Today, people have access to customized products and services from around the world, and in mass. So, to become (and stay) the brand of choice, companies must either offer the lowest price, or the best customer service experience.

Don’t take our word for it. Gartner found that more than 80% of companies expect to compete almost solely on the basis of customer experience by 2020. That’s why we created this guide: to give you everything you need to develop customer service training, and get ahead of the competition.

These are the topics we’ll be covering in this post:

What is customer service training?

Customers don’t receive a great service, they experience it. And to create that positive and memorable experience, employees at every customer touchpoint must have a few important skills – gained through customer service training programs!

Through customer service training, your staff will learn how to create an unforgettable experience before, during, and after the sale – which is what you were going for in the first place!


What skills do you need for customer service?

Think back to when you last made a purchase and felt good about it. Now try to remember why it felt good.

Did the sales rep have a contagious smile? Perhaps the shop assistant was super knowledgeable about the product. Or, maybe the after-sales agent understood your complaint and quickly resolved the issue.

Whatever it was, you’ll probably find that special ‘something’ in the list of customer service skills below. These are the essential skills your employees need to master in order to improve customer service.

1. Patience

Customers are always right, even when they’re wrong. This can create some frustrating situations for sales and support staff. Practicing patience keeps the situation calm, and allows customers to express their complaints without conflict. Once they’ve cooled off, the employee assisting them can focus on resolving the issue.

2. Active listening

It’s almost impossible to resolve someone’s issue, or understand their need, without listening to them first. This makes ‘active listening’ one of the great customer service skills of today. It involves not just hearing what the other person is saying, but fully concentrating on and interpreting their message, too.

3. Product knowledge

This might seem like an obvious one – but, boy, is it essential. When staff don’t know or understand the products they’re selling, the customer experience is automatically at risk. Sales staff won’t be able to answer questions, or make informed recommendations. And support staff won’t be able to, well, support!

4. Persuasiveness

This skill isn’t about refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s about avoiding ‘no’ to begin with. Employees with this skill are able to create a compelling message that convinces potential customers of the value of a product or service. As a result, they close more deals.

5. Time management

Did you know that 12% of Americans say their top frustration with customer service is “lack of speed”? Yip. Quick responses, and quick delivery, make for happy customers. But speedy service requires time-management skills, because customer support staff often need to juggle multiple customers and requests at the same time.

6. Empathy

Being empathetic is being able to identify and interpret the feelings of others – like customers! Empathy is often classified as a personality characteristic. True, some people are naturally more empathetic than others, but this is a soft skill that can be learned and improved through customer care skills training.

7. Problem-solving

Watch out! Here comes a curveball! With the rapid evolution of technologies, products, and services today, employees are bound to come across customer requests or complaints they’ve never experienced before. So, they need to think on their feet. This is why the best customer service training programs teach employees the skill of problem-solving.

8. Resilience

No, thanks. Not today. Let me speak to your manager. These are responses your customer-facing employees hear daily, along with slammed phones and the voices of annoyed customers. Without resilience, the job can be hard on their morale and motivation, which could have negative effects on their performance.

Why is customer service training important?

Twenty years ago the customer was always right. Today, they’re always in control. Why? Because a combination of Google, social media and online reviews gives customers a plethora of information at their fingertips.

So, using any device, and in a matter of seconds, customers can size up a brand and their reputation. Of course, a bad reputation can put you out of business. Just think that 33% of Americans consider switching companies after just one instance of poor service. Ouch!

But that’s okay, because we know how to improve customer service and gain all the advantages that come with it. Here are the top benefits to expect from customer experience training.

1. More sales, more often

Want a statistic that’ll knock your socks off? Over 90% of customers will probably make repeat purchases from companies that give them excellent customer service.

This means that training for employees to deliver effective customer service leads to more customers, who make more purchases. Before you know it, business is booming!

2. Increased profits

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of your profits rocketing to new levels. Because customers are willing to pay more for a great experience.

If anyone recognizes the financial return of retail customer service training, it’s coffee giant Starbucks. They famously closed 7,100 stores across America for a 3-hour training session to improve customer service skills. Why? Because they knew that a better customer experience would cover the cost of 3 hours of lost sales – a thousand times over!

3. Positive word of mouth

Digital marketing might be taking small and big businesses by storm, but at the end of the day, long-term success is still a word-of-mouth game. Whether it’s via a Facebook recommendation or over Starbucks coffee, real experiences told by real people influence customer purchasing decisions.

The good news is that 77% of customers will recommend a business to a friend after having a positive experience with them. So, investing in corporate customer service training is a great way to turn your customers into your most valuable marketers.

4. Lower costs of replacement

You already know that employees are expensive to replace, but did you know that the same is true for customers? Harvard Business Review found that building new customer relationships is up to 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones.

So, how do you foster loyalty and convince customers to stick around for the long haul? You give them a great experience, every time, by investing in a customer service training course.

5. Improved retention of top talent

Retaining top talent is tough. But you’re not one to back down from a challenge! So, give your sales and support reps the one thing that’ll keep them happy and loyal: training!

This benefit is especially valuable in industries where customer-facing staff consistently experience high levels of stress – like nurses. In these cases, customer service training for healthcare professionals can give them the skills and confidence they need to perform well and feel satisfied.

Now that you know how vital customer service skills training is, let’s explore what you need to make it happen.

What does customer service training involve?

By now you understand that customer service representative training doesn’t cost. It pays! And you’re ready to start seeing the benefits within your own company. There’s just one problem: where do you start?

Here’s a list of everything you’ll need to kick off your customer support training with a bang!

1. A spot-on customer service training implementation plan

Some say that planning is half the battle won. So we’re starting this list with a customer service training plan. This is a detailed map of all the customer service training activities and materials for the next 6 to 12 months.

While it’s smart to plan ahead, it’s even smarter to stay flexible. So be sure to evaluate the success of your training, and often. If your plan isn’t as effective as you expected it to be, adapt and find new ways to improve customer service through training.

2. The people to execute the plan

What’s a plan without the people, right? Having a strong training team will ensure that your plan is implemented correctly. Your team should include course instructors, subject matter experts (SMEs), instructional designers, and even the creative talent needed to develop content like customer service training videos.

3. The platform to connect the plan to the people

Once you have a solid training plan, and a talented team to bring it to life, you’ll need one more thing: a learning management system (LMS).

A powerful LMS is the perfect platform to create and deliver online customer service training. Choosing customer service training software with the right features will also unlock real-time reports and insights that’ll help you measure your training results.

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The most critical customer service training topics

There’s an almost endless list of topics when it comes to training your staff on customer service. You won’t be able to get through all of them straight away, and neither will your employees. So start with the essentials below, and keep adding new types of customer service training from there.

1. Communication

We said it before, and we’ll say it again: communication is one of the key customer service training skills of the 21st century. So, this topic is at the top of our list. Whether your employees communicate with customers via phone, social media, or in person, the courses below are a great starting point for your training program.

Listening to understand

When support staff listen with the intention to understand, they’re more likely to interpret customers’ problems correctly the first time around. This skill saves time, because communication doesn’t bounce back and forth. It also helps to avoid conflict, because problems are resolved quickly, and without frustrating misunderstandings.

Dealing with difficult customers

Customer service training, especially for call centers, should include a course that teaches skills like resilience, patience and empathy – all important for dealing with rejection and avoiding conflicts with customers.

Closing deals

Customers are only customers once they’ve made a purchase, and you depend on your sales staff to make that happen. So, be sure to offer a course that develops persuasion skills. For the best results, include customer service training exercises that resemble real workplace scenarios.

2. Company products and policies

Any employee who interacts with customers also represents your brand, values and standards. So, it’s important that they have a thorough understanding of your company’s products and policies.

Product information

Sales and support staff should always receive product training as part of their onboarding. But don’t stop there! It’s likely that your products and services will evolve, and so will the training needs for your customer service staff. Keep your training content up-to-date with new product information.

Company values and standards

One of the best customer service training tips we can give you is to offer employees a course on company values and standards. When staff know what is expected of them, and that they’ll be recognized for behaviors that align with company policies, they’ll become better representatives of your brand.

3. Sales and support processes

Your new star sales agent might have oodles of experience, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll be familiar with your sales process. After all, their previous employers could have operated differently. So it’s a good idea to offer courses that get newbies up to speed with how things work in your house.

Using a CRM system effectively

Using a CRM system has become one of the common customer service activities for the modern-day workplace. Still, new hires might have never used a CRM before, and even if they have, it’s possible that it wasn’t the same as your CRM. So make sure to add a CRM course to your customer service training agenda.

Escalating a query or complaint

Even with excellent customer service training, there will be times when your employees can’t deal with an issue on their own. They need to know what kind of situations to escalate, and who to escalate them to.

4. Customer relations

Customer service isn’t an event. It’s a continuous process that aims to build lasting customer relationships. Or at least it should be – and will be – if you invest in the courses below.

Processing feedback and measuring satisfaction

Happy customers are the dream. So when a customer offers tips for good customer service, your staff need to be trained to listen and record their feedback. They also need to have the skills to interpret customer reactions and measure satisfaction. This way, staff can go the extra mile when a customer seems like they’re not as happy as they could be.

Empathizing with customers

We’ve already emphasized that empathizing (excuse the tongue twister) is crucial for great customer experience. So, empathy training for customer service staff is a crucial part of your program.

5. Soft skills training

A recent study by LinkedIn found that soft skills are in high demand by employers. Skills like time management and emotional intelligence are not a luxury anymore, but a necessity. And yet, 80% of employers are struggling to find these skills in the talent market. The solution? Including soft skills in your customer service rep training.

Managing stress

Stress comes standard with modern-day living, but it can be especially tough when your job requires you to make multiple people happy every day. Yikes! Luckily, you can develop your employees’ stress management skills through practical customer service training scenarios, like role plays and coaching.

Building resilience

Sales and support staff encounter frequent rejection, disappointment and irate customers. So, resilience is an important component of customer service training in service-based industries like retail and healthcare. The more resilient your staff, the more protected their mental and emotional health will be – and the better they’ll perform.

Managing time and tasks effectively

Time management is on every list of customer service training needs. So, last but far from least, offer your customer service employees a course in time-management and delegation. Knowing how to prioritize tasks will not only make employees more efficient, but less anxious, too.

How to implement a customer service training program

By now you understand the importance of high-quality customer service training, and you know what you need to get started. All that’s left is to follow the steps below to set your training in motion.

1. Define the objectives of your customer service training

You don’t need customer service qualifications to implement your training program. You just need to know what your company goals and customer needs are. Review customer complaints and recommendations, and set your training goals to support the company’s strategy.

2. Conduct a customer service training needs assessment

Now that you know your destination, it’s time to evaluate the distance. Ask your sales and support staff what they struggle with most on the job, and provide them with a skills assessment. The gaps between the desired skills and confidence, and actual skills and confidence, will tell you what your customer service training strategy needs to address.

3. Plan your training content

The next step is to create an outline for your customer service training content. This is often called a learning design plan, and it includes the learning outcomes, type of activity, and method of delivery for your program.

4. Create your training content

At last, we’ve reached the fun part! This is when SMEs, instructional designers and creatives (like writers and designers) work together to develop the customer service training manual, online exercises, games, etc. Remember, not all content has to be created from scratch. There are many templates, videos, and other online resources that can make this step quick and easy.

5. Deliver online customer service courses

Once your content is ready, it’s time to make it accessible to employees. This could be in the form of customer service training seminars or classroom-based workshops. But if you need to reach many employees with different schedules and locations, online courses offer convenience, accessibility, and mobility.

6. Evaluate training success

With your excellent customer service training complete, it’s time to evaluate just how ‘excellent’ it really was. Look at course completion rates, activity performance, and employee feedback. Of course, another skills assessment will give you a measure of improvement, too. With these insights, find ways to make your training even more effective.

Next steps

Happy customers are your best advocates and most talented marketers. This makes excellent customer service skills your first line of defense in the war to attract and retain market share. So, don’t let it be an afterthought. Start planning your customer service strategy and implementing some of the customer service training ideas from this guide right now.

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